Jeong Dabin Melania(Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity) ©KBS NEWS In the last few years, interest in Jaeil Joseonin and Joseon Schools has rapidly increased in South Korean society. Several civil society organizations have formed with the goal of solidarity with Koreans in Japan, and major news agencies have produced feature documentaries about Joseon Schools. This heightened interest in Jaeil Joseonin and Joseon schools must be due to the role of Joseon Schools to preserve the identity of the Korean people and what’s more, to feed our imagination to transcend the division of the Korean peninsula. Jaeil Joseonin [often translated as Zainichi Korean or Koreans in Japan]: In the early 20th century, Japan forcibly occupied Joseon (the kingdom which comprised what is now South and North Korea) and many Koreans came to live in Japan. Many of them were unable to return to Korea after the end of WWII; unable to join South Korea or North Korea, they remain as Joseon-Koreans in Japan. Misunderstandings about Joseon Schools Understandings regarding Joseon Schools were not always so amicable. The focus on Jaeil Joseonin and Joseon Schools by major news agencies, mentioned above, happened in 2018-2019. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the Inter-Korean Summits, and the subsequent cooperative atmosphere between the Koreas created a surge of expectations and forecasts for a new era of peace and prosperity. Perspectives on Joseon Schools become amicable when there are improved relations between North and South Korea, and they become adversarial when inter-Korean relations worsen. This is because of the long lasting misunderstanding that “Joseon Schools are North Korean Schools” or that “Koreans in Japan who support North Korea send their children to Joseon Schools.” Japanese xenophobic groups go even farther to stigmatize Joseon Schools, saying, “Joseon Schools are schools to train North Korean spies,” and have committed the brutal act of cutting the students’ traditional Korean-style hanbok uniforms with knives. When I first visited a Joseon School, I also was not free of this prejudice and misunderstanding. The misunderstanding was fed by the presence of portraits of the North Korean leaders on the classroom walls, by the unfamiliar words and expressions used by the students, and by the inclusion in the curriculum of North Korean history from after the division, which is unfamiliar to South Koreans. Traditional Korean-style school uniforms ripped by xenophobic attackers ©KBS NEWS On the one hand, it was unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but on the other hand I tried repeatedly to consider that it was natural since both South and North Korea were the homeland that Japanese Koreans had left behind. My insight is still limited, but I feel that it is not appropriate, especially in the current day, to call Joseon Schools ‘North Korean schools’ or ‘schools that support North Korea.’ The students of Joseon Schools actually have diverse nationalities- South Korean, Joseon nationality, and Japanese, and the numbers with South Korean nationality are increasing. The focus is not on national education or the teaching of ideology, but on teaching children growing up in a foreign country about their identity. “Joseon nationality” (Japanese: 朝鮮籍, Chosen-seki) refers to the status that was temporarily assigned to Koreans in Japan in 1947 for the sake of convenience on their foreign registration cards by the American government in Japan after the defeat of the Japanese empire in 1945. Now it refers to the Koreans in Japan who have not adopted either South Korean or Japanese nationality. South Korean hometown, Democratic People’s Republic homeland, raised in Japan What gives the Joseon schools a flavor of North Korea? It may be because support from North Korea has helped sustain the Joseon Schools over the years. From Korean independence until the present day, the Japanese government has oppressed the Joseon Schools and the South Korean government has ignored the Koreans in Japan and the Joseon Schools. It was North Korea that aided the Koreans who were struggling to provide an education of what it means to be Korean in Japan, and each year North Korea gave considerable donations to support education at the Joseon Schools. Because North Korea gave support to the Jaeil Joseonin and the Joseon Schools, the Jaeil Joseonin thus tended to support North Korea. One expression to describe the complicated identity of Jaeil Joseonin is “South Korean hometown, Democratic People’s Republic homeland, raised in Japan.” The majority of first generation Jaeil Joseonin moved to Japan from Jeju Island and other regions in the south of the Korean peninsula. The 4th and 5th generation think of their great and great-great grandparents’ hometowns in the southern parts of Korea as their own hometowns. The Koreans in Japan are also grateful to their homeland North Korea for supporting their education about what it means to be Korean. However, the home where they were born, grew up, and will live their lives is Japan. The foreign registration card of Joseon nationality -[North] Korean soccer star An Young-hak ©KBS NEWS Just as we South Koreans are not all the same, I presume that the Jaeil Joseonin have, of course, diverse and complex opinions and values regarding North and South Korea, the Korean peninsula and Japan. Moreover, I could feel that at least the children at the Joseon Schools today are growing up with a more open education than we presume, and the Joseon Schools and the people at them have identities that cannot be done justice with simple one word descriptions. To those of us who ask “Which side are you on?” Personally, I think that asking Jaeil Joseonin and Joseon Schools the question “Which side are you on?” is uncomfortable and deserves an apology. The Jaeil Joseonin have had to confront the painful history of colonization and division of Korea more closely than anyone. They were forced by the Japanese empire to work in an unfamiliar land, and they could not return home after independence. They had to live immersed in the frigid confrontation of the division of Korea and the Cold War. Notably, the Jaeil Joseonin were long ostracized by South Korean society and at times used as a tools of the Cold War. However, they were always watching us while we ignored them, and actually that’s why I feel it is unfair now to point a finger and ask "Which side are you on?” Joseon School students look south from the north side of the DMZ at Panmunjeom while on a field trip ©KBS NEWS I dare to think that if it can be said that anyone most passionately and earnestly awaited Korean reunification, it would be the Jaeil Joseonin. That’s because of the large and painful wound that the reality of division represents to them. The children growing up quickly in the Joseon schools know South Korea, North Korea and Japan; they are rare persons who are familiar with South Korean dramas, North Korean literature, and Japanese music. However, these children still live in an era of division and face discrimination, exclusion, and misunderstandings everyday. The reality is complicated, the road to reconciliation and unity is long, but people are trying. It is spring, and we can imagine and look forward to a time when the Joseon School children will have a brighter and warmer future, and a more kind and abundant reality than that which was endured by the previous generations of Jaeil Joseonin.